OXFORD author Zoe May - who has just celebrated the release of her latest book As Luck Would Have It - talks about the perceived 'snootiness' behind her genre of romantic comedy writing.

I was sitting in an Oxford pub once, reading a book. I had the cover flat against the table, not wanting to draw attention, but a man walking past me looked my way, nodding towards the novel in my hands.

‘What are you reading?’ he inquired. He had an academic vibe about him.

‘Oh, just this…’ I sheepishly held up my book, presenting its whimsical pastel cover towards him: The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella.

‘Right!’ he scoffed, rolling his eyes, before strutting off.

I suppose he’d have been more impressed had I been reading The Iliad or the latest Booker Prize winner. But little did he know I’d just finished an English degree and that I wanted to unwind with a light read after having spent the past few months writing a lengthy dissertation on contemporary gender ideologies in the novels of Charlotte Brontë. I shrugged off his rudeness and carried on enjoying my book.

I didn’t know back then that such snobbery would become a running theme of my career.

Fast forward ten years and I’m a romantic comedy author. Casual dismissal towards novels within my genre is something that’s become depressingly familiar. It’s everything from acquaintances asking how I’m getting on writing my ‘little books’ to a general feeling of being looked down upon from the literary world. You’d be forgiven for thinking romance novels simply don’t exist from looking at national newspaper round-ups of books of the year.

I read widely and while I’ve wanted to be a novelist from a young age, I didn’t always intent to write romantic comedies. They’re not all I ever want to write either, but I will never look down at the genre. As well as being brilliantly plotted and expertly written for the most part, romantic comedy novels are warm, comforting and uplifting and the market needs them. Readers need them.

There was a time when I, too, really needed them. I became a voracious reader of romantic comedies during the most difficult time of my adult life. I was 24 when my best friend Jane died suddenly during an epileptic fit. We’d been friends since we were six years old and I was heartbroken.

There was a huge hole in my life. I’d always had someone I could talk to about anything, from whingeing about a bad haircut to asking for dating advice, from discussing family issues to weighing up career dilemmas.

Jane was always there, but then she was gone, and it felt really strange. I found myself reading romantic comedy after romantic comedy, or ‘chick lit’ as they were more commonly known back then.

I found the chatty matey tone of the narrators helped fill the void I had from not being able to talk to my best friend. Maybe I wasn’t ready for a new best friend in real life, but the heroines of the books I was reading were the perfect substitutes. I laughed with them, rooted for them, learnt from their mistakes, and grew with them.

Those chick-lit books, often regarded as ‘fluffy’ or ‘silly’, got me through one of the worst periods of my life. I now write such books for a living, and I take huge pride in being able to pen fun, sweet, heartfelt novels that hopefully spread a bit of light, helping to lift other people’s spirits.

Romantic comedies are important. They’re bestselling. They’re often very well-written. And they can be life-changing, as they were for me. They deserved to be respected as widely as they’re read, and anyone who looks down their nose at them is, quite frankly, missing out.

These days, if I’m sitting in a pub reading a romantic comedy, I don’t worry about snootiness, I read with pride. If anyone wants to know more about what I’m reading, I’ll tell them enthusiastically. And I’ll probably drop in that I write these kinds of books too!